Sunday, July 13, 2008

How to succeed as a team? - From my training at ICRISAT

Recently I had been to ICRISAT, a very beautiful place located near BHEL, Hyderabad; for some team building training. The stay was there for 3 days and 2 nights and those were the best days. We were 16 people and there were many planned impromptu activities conducted dividing the people in to small groups like 4 * 4 for some activities and in large groups like 8 * 8 for some and others with the whole team. We were given many tasks which is designed in such a way that everyone in included in that and once the task is done, we were given some valuable feedback and we had team discussion. The environment was such that everyone expressed their views frankly.

For the whole stay there were 7 activities and after every activity I started taking notes of my failures (to learn from my mistakes) and success (to learn from my glory). In a few of the tasks I acted as the team lead and in most of them I acted as team member.

Here are some of my learning's, which may seem like very simple words but to know their value, we need some good or preferably bad experiences.

  • Time Management: One of the best things that I learnt and still learning is how best to utilize the time. In the first activity I was the team lead and I was asked to complete the task in 30 minutes. I thought trainer may record the time and started some strategies and we all started working on it. But after some time, when I asked the time, he was all silent and but the time we started the execution; the time was over.

The next day, he asked us to assemble at 7 am and the rule was "The late comers pay Rs 2 * no of minutes* no of people waiting there && the time includes the time you are arguing && there is only one time that we all follow and its my time i.e. 7:40:53 pm.". I thought this is a simple thing and had to pay Rs.48 for 60 seconds and the total collection crossed around Rs.850 and then I could know the meaning of "Time is Money". From the next time, I made a decision to come always 5 minutes ahead of the given time and the simple rule changed me.

  • Communication: In the first task, I explained the whole team of 16 members the task that was told to me, in the best way that I could do. But, after the feedback section, not even 1 could completely understand the goal. The reason was I myself was not clear with the goal and I shouldn't have expected that every one is very good at listening. From that time I took a confirmation from every one once I express something and it worked many times and I still try to get the best ways to communicate the best way.

Communication is not only expressing the best way but it is also listening when others are speaking. In some of the tasks there were people with better ideas than what we had and they couldn't communicate properly because others were not listening to them.

  • Knowing the Goal or Objective: This reminds me of my childhood days when my Mother used to say, "Read the question twice and don't start writing until you understand it better". Most of the times we read or know a lot and because we know a lot, we are in a great hurry that we forget to understand what is asked and end up giving the best wrong solution.

In one of the tasks, we were all so enthusiastic that we were all busy in finding a plan before knowing the goal. One of the tasks was to collect some cups in a ground; with 4 peoples legs tied to a plank and get it back to the start line. And the funny thing is all got a lot of cups, but none completed the task and the reason was we had to bring the cups and we need not reach back.

  • Plan well before start, and be ready for the change: Tasks were given impromptu and we were asked to execute in very less time, max was 30 minutes. So, with so many members, having different thoughts and some people being more verbal, it took so much time for the plan itself and later on every one blamed others that they were more verbal. Later on, every one started with some best plan and while the plan was being executed, it was changed on the fly. It always does not mean to start your flight and then start constructing; but the better way is to start doing something and flexible enough to change in the middle.

The time we reached there, all the 16 people's legs were tied and we were asked to reach the conference hall in 20 minutes. Initially we all started shouting left and right, but after some time we realized that its better to drag our legs. So, we all changed the plan and it worked a bit faster and later on we felt to sit and drag with our base and this was still faster and we could reach the target in 17 minutes.

  • Focus on abilities and not disabilities, don't enter into other shoes: There was a task where some people were given some disabilities and some powers and after the task was not completed in the stipulated time, every one were yelling about their disabilities and were complaining that the other people had good powers which they couldn't utilize properly.

In the task, one team was blind, one mute and the other normal. The rule was "blind can touch the people and the equipment, the mute can touch the people but not the equipment and the normal can neither touch the people not the equipment". The task was to use a tube and some ropes to take a container with some water and pour into another one which was a bit higher and there were many other rules. I was the lead for this project and took more people as blind, as I knew they were powerful and some as mute so that they can help the blind in doing their tasks and a few normals. Blind and mute complained that the normal was powerful, normal complained that the task was not clear. The primary problem was everyone were thinking of their disabilities and none could think about their powers.

  • See all around and get the ideas: Re usability is a powerful thing and it even applies to writing code. There are many successful and smart people who just Google, ctrl+c and ctrl+v, modify it and write the most effective code. The primary idea is to complete the task in the best way and not to show our personal skills.

One of the tasks were to shift people and some equipment from one area to another, with only the crates touching the ground. The penalty for breaking the rules was that the whole team and its equipment return to the start and there were some other rules. We had 3 crates and we decided to move as a team of 3 in the beginning and 2 coming back. But this could take a lot of time and hence we decided to move as a team of 4 and 2 returning back. And while we could even reach there, the other team moved as a team of 3 and from there 1 person tied the 2 crates to each of the legs and took the 3rd in hand and moved back and we just copied their idea and ours was still faster because every time 3 people are moving out.

  • Don't get overloaded, if so communicate or even take help from other team: In some tasks, 1 or 2 were the best team players and people trust them and when they become tired or they are slow, the whole team comes down. This time its worth to take help from the other team or better to communicate in the beginning.

In a task called spider web, we had to move thorough the web only once and the goal is to move the whole team to the other side. Some persons took the key role of lifting and pushing the people from one side, but some how one of the key member got strained in the back and the whole team was left over.

In another task, I was moved from one team to another as they recommended me and too much trust was laid on me. My plan was implemented and I was thinking about all the team members and their tasks and trained them, but when the demo was asked I did a mistake for which the whole team had to fail.

  • Your work may be scraped because others work may be the best; the goal is to get the work done and not about who has done that: Sometimes people get some good work and they work day in and day out to complete the task, but in the end some other tool may be purchased and this total work might be scraped. The goal is to get the work done in the best way and not about individual work.

The last task was for 3 hours and there were 3 teams and the total time in the last for the demo was 120 seconds. If it failed for the first time, the 3 teams together had another chance. So all the teams practiced a lot for 3 hours and their target was to complete the task in 35 - 40 seconds. Only one team was trained and it could complete the task in 17 sec and the second team couldn't complete the task in the remaining time, so it there was only one more chance left. The lead came with the idea that the 1st team does the 3 tasks since they could do it in 11 sec and moreover they were trained, but many argued in the beginning, since they couldn't show up their strategies. But later everyone agreed and encouraged the 1st team and the task was completed in 80 seconds.


There are many other things that I could learn from this training and these keywords ( like Time Management, .. ) are really powerful and worth trying. One golden rule I got from this training, putting the complex thing in simple way, "Most of the mistakes are done because of Assumptions, So never go with any assumptions, better ask and you are at a better place than the one who did not ask. Only fools justify the mistakes, but the others learn from their failures and the best ones learn from their successes".